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Stamp Boy

February 22, 2018

In the early 1980s, my father worked for an envelope company. That company was the reason I grew up in California and not my parents’ native Washington State, where I was born in 1980. The company had a job transfer to their South San Francisco plant and in 1982 my father and mother bought a brand new home in Dublin, CA for $30,000, took their 4-year old and 2-year old boys (Oxford comma) and made a new life. My father purchased little ticket books for bridge toll to drive from Dublin, down 580 West to 238 to 880 to 92 over the San Mateo Bridge to 101 and onto his new work home in South City.

He was a middle manager for the company, with a desk job. There were stamps and reports that were generated instructing or noting or confirming payment. As a boy I didn’t fully realize the details of an office position for which I am acutely aware today. I just remember that when those stamps were no longer needed and the reports were obsolete they became my toys and coloring paper. The stamps were a combination of rubber thumpers, which had a handle and required stomping the rubber stamp onto an ink pad and then placing it on your target. The others were the coveted self-inking stamps. These were mechanical beauties: a heavy weight to their construction, a magic ink pad built into that hardware which required no secondary ink pad thumping, and a whistling metal clinking and solid whump when you pressed it down onto paper.

The reports typically were a list of customer orders with addresses, I remember, and most likely a company name and customer number. Each report was one sided on standard 8-½” x11” paper with one side completely blank. My brother and I would spend countless hours over the years coloring images on the blanks or creating our own imaginary reports, then thumping our stamps all over them. We even branched out and started thumping in books, pretending to be librarians. It should be noted that before bar codes the librarians used a catalogue card system where a book was stamped with a return date on the card, which they kept, and into the book which you took with you. That stamping is what we attempted to replicate and which is still evidenced in numerous children’s books at my parents house today.

As a boy I emulated my parents. To be a middle manager at an office seemed pretty great. My mother was a teacher and needed reading glasses when I was grade school age so there were days of playing teacher, too, where I’d collect her home copies of textbooks and those reading glasses and begin my class lecture, usually American history. These were great jobs for amazing people and I was good at them.

At some point in high school I no longer wanted to stamp or teach. I discovered acting and a world of self-expression. This wasn’t something I had thought of doing as a boy despite those moments of pretending to be middle management and honing my teaching skills (not to mention my days as a cliffhanging superhero, SuperHanSkywalkerHe-Man-in-rubber-boots-and
-child-size-3–piece-suit). This was a new world for me. A life unencumbered by stamps and textbooks that dealt with deeper questions that confused and depressed me as a teenager. Questions of purpose and mortality, of love and desire, politics and science. Everything could be explored and shared in a way that kept that middle manager alive while satisfying this new yearning for purpose in the world.

Somewhere in the story I became a real middle manager as well as an actor. Maybe this was a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’ve always been drawn to an office because it had stamps needing to be thumped and whumped. The theatre had the same pull to my childhood allowing me to pretend as I did with those stamps and textbooks. I’m constantly feeling the push and pull between the two worlds like a young Jedi Knight feeling the draw to the dark side and fighting for the light. I don’t know which is the dark and light anymore. All I know is that somewhere in there a little boy with stamps and reports reigns supreme.  

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